Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(7), pp. 27-28
Nell,* just 11 years old, was due home from her trip to Israel. She was returning from an international program similar to one that her older brother Josh had attended a few years earlier. Josh didn’t want to come to the airport to welcome his sister, and we, the parents, did not insist. Our boy was depressed, and the professionals had told us to “back off.”
Sadly, Nell did not get a chance to compare notes with Josh. He was found dead the morning after she had returned. He was only 15.
Josh was diagnosed with depression and possible bipolar disorder earlier in the year, and was in treatment at the time of his death. He had attempted suicide twice before. Antidepressants were prescribed by our GP—the same GP who chose not to impart to us his knowledge of Josh’s previous suicide attempt. Instead, he had suggested Josh tell us about it himself, within a given time period.
Upon reflection, signs of suicide certainly had been present. Josh had given up the sailing that he loved; he was missing classes and often stayed home claiming to be sick. Josh died in August 1999. He hung himself in the front yard of his best friend’s house.
His friends were well aware that Josh had ‘emotional problems’ (as Josh referred to them in an e-mail to a cousin, just before he died). Josh had discussed his imminent death and funeral with friends, had written good-bye notes and had left written instructions about where to spread his ashes. His friends never disclosed this information to us or, to our knowledge, to any other adults. All this was only discovered after the fact.
Fuelled by the grief and anger brought on by Josh’s death, my husband Ben and I set up a memorial fund in Josh’s name to promote suicide prevention.
Around that time, I happened to read a newspaper article about a dance drama for youth concerning teen angst. ICE: beyond cool was created and performed by Dance Arts (now known as Judith Marcuse Projects), which is well known for its wonderful work with youth. In collaboration with Judith Marcuse and with the cooperation of Josh’s school, Point Grey Secondary, a performance of ICE took place on what would have been Josh’s 17th birthday—just 13 months after his death. Every student in the school was able to see the play.
I believe that this dance drama has a deep effect on many students and that theatre is a powerful and effective medium for getting these messages out to youth. ICE is an exciting production that speaks to the many challenges the teenage years can present, including mood swings, drug use, sexual exploration, peer and parental pressure, depression and suicide.
The memorial fund is now the registered non-profit and charity, the Josh Platzer Society. The mission of the society is to educate BC youth and those around them about suicide prevention. To this end, I give presentations to parent associations in schools, and our family was featured in the WTN docu-drama series, You, Me and the Kids—a Canada-wide program for parents.
Working in conjunction with the Crisis Centre and the Vancouver Suicide Survivors Coalition, we are promoting World Suicide Prevention Day to encourage open dialogue about suicide and to raise awareness. The role of suicide survivors working alongside health care professionals and counsellors cannot be underestimated.
Our society is currently working on a charity bracelet campaign. The orange bracelets will have a BC crisis line phone number and the YouthInBC.com website address on them. The bracelets serve two purposes: showing support for, and interest in, this very worthy cause; but more importantly, two valuable resources are provided—literally, close at hand—should the wearer or any of their friends need them. Through education, we will remove stigma and promote dialogue, so that the signs of suicide are more readily recognized and shared. Awareness can save lives.
About the author
Jude is Executive Director of the Josh Platzer Society for Teen Suicide Prevention and Awareness. She is a registered nurse by profession and lives with her husband and daughter in Vancouver, BC